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In the current version of Dwarf Fortress (0.47.04), there are barrels that your dwarves can use to store food, water, seeds, etc. Usually in my fortresses, I use them to store large quantities of drinks in a drink stockpile, and this doesn't cause any problems. (Well, other than the usual problems.)

However, I've noticed that over time, my brewers start to run out of barrels to store drinks in, which cancels their brewing task for reasons of "no suitable container."

This is odd to me, because while it makes sense that barrels are also getting filled with food and seeds and maybe that causes previously empty barrels to be filled again, I could swear that I never have enough barrels and have to constantly make more, despite churning them out by the hundreds at my carpenter stations and only keeping stockpiles of about 200-300 drinks at a time.

This makes me suspect that there's some kind of mechanic for barrels degrading or breaking with frequent use, or that there is some kind of glitch or hidden mechanic that I wasn't aware of associated with barrel storage and container storage. But after scouring the forums and reading the wiki article about how barrels and other containers work, there's just this one note that makes me think this could be an alternate explanation for my lack of barrels:

Alcohol must be brewed into either a barrel or pot. Each container can hold a single stack of alcohol. Larger batches should be, but aren't, split across multiple containers automatically.

So, are my fortress's disappearing barrels due to barrels degrading, or is it due to my dwarves being terrible at splitting batches across multiple containers? Or some other explanation?

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There is no degradation mechanic for barrels. What tends to happen is that dwarves aren't the most organized race, and so they have a bad habit of putting just a single seed in a barrel, or leaving one cracker at the bottom. The brewers are lazy, so they'll only use a completely empty barrel. One thing that can help is to limit the number of barrels in your food stockpile, which'll prompt the dwarves to fill up the existing barrels rather than grabbing a new one, and any overflow will be set on the ground in the stockpile.

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  • Ahh, this makes sense. Thank you :) – Sciborg Jan 7 at 18:17
  • Happy to help! I can't wait to play DF again, but I'm trying to hold off until it hits Steam... – SaintWacko Jan 7 at 18:38
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In addition to what SaintWacko said, you can get some weird job cancellations if two dwarves happen to try to interact with the same barrel at similar times. Dwarf A decides to go get a barrel. Meanwhile, Dwarf B also wants a barrel, coincidentally picks the same barrel as Dwarf A, and gets there first. Dwarf A will then cancel his job message.

Barrels, well anything really, can also decay if left in a stockpile that also accepts refuse.

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